Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by: Jamie Ford
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Summary from Goodreads:
Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.
This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry's world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship - and innocent love - that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.
Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel's dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice - words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.
This was one of my favorite reads of the summer. I found Keiko and Henry some very endearing characters. This book was also eye-opening for me because I had no idea that this was going on during WWII. Yet he presented the facts and the story without any true political bias which was quite refreshing for a historical novel.
The language was beautiful, which was a nice break after all of the fluff I read this summer, and the story well developed. The only thing that is keeping me from giving it a 5 was because the internet wasn't used the way it was during the 1980 portion of the novel.